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Ethanol production: good for the community and the farmers?

The Hidden issues.          Send a link to a friend

By Jim Youngquist

[MARCH 12, 2005]  I went to that ethanol awareness meeting on Monday night dead set against the plant locating just down the road from our house. My reasons for being against it were that I feared that my property values would be affected, and when the wind blew out of the southwest, we would be enveloped in a breath-stealing stench in both my house and my yard.

After the meeting my fears about odors coming from the plant were practically eliminated. Brian Wrage from Illini Bio-Energy assured us that this plant wouldn't produce the Staley's-like smells I feared. The testimony of people who have visited similar ethanol plants confirms that Brian Wrage was telling the truth about this odor issue.

And, if I'm being realistic about the property value issue, my property values would probably begin to suffer in the long run if I'm living in a county where the citizenry constantly opposes and chases away every bit of economic development that requires any kind of sacrifice. In the long run, this will only be a jobless, businessless bedroom community with a Wal-Mart and a few fast-food places. Businesses and industry that pay a living wage are important to this community.

There were some people at that meeting on Monday night who have a legitimate concern with the proposed location of the ethanol plant. They will look out their front windows and see the distillation towers filling their sight. The railroad spur for the plant will be right in their backyards. If there is an environmental problem caused by the plant, it will immediately affect their lives. And, it is very likely that their property values will decline severely because no one will want to purchase their homes, should they ever decide to sell. I have a great deal of sympathy for those people. Their concerns should be part of every negotiation regarding the plant.

The greatest fears expressed by the crowd at the meeting Monday night centered on hidden environmental issues. Would the plant silently poison the environment over time? Would the VOM toxins cause cancer rates to soar in the area? Would this coal-fired plant put soot into the air? Would the plant poison the ground water? What if the product leaked? These were all good questions!

Personally, though I heard Brian Wrage's answers and thought they were truth, I had a hard time trusting answers from anyone in the chemical industry because so much untruth and hidden problems have happened in this industry across the world.

So far, though, this short-lived ethanol industry seems to have a good environmental track record.

My remaining concerns center around some of the other hidden issues regarding this ethanol plant. These concerns are about the real economic cost to the county.

The location of this plant requires the Logan County citizenry to heavily subsidize the operation of this plant through property and sales tax abatement. The current proposal is for 10 years of property tax abatement to the farmland tax level. The figures thrown around at that meeting indicated that the plant will likely pay some $350,000 a year in property taxes. It is roughly estimated that the infrastructure costs for roads will be about $6 million over that 10-year time period. The proposal also calls for the complete abatement of the county's portion of sales taxes for operating supplies purchased in the county over the next 10 years. My calculator tells me that leaves the taxpayers of Logan County with the remaining cost of some $2.5 million over 10 years.

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I received a number of responses this week to my article Tuesday about the ethanol meeting. Some of them were from ethanol industry insiders. They told the story of ethanol plant startups across the country that offered the area farmers an independent market for their grain. The farmers joined these co-ops, signed contracts for the sale of their corn and invested heavily in them, thinking this would help their family farms survive. Local investors for these plants provided only about one-third of the moneys needed for construction and operations to begin. These ethanol co-ops then solicited outside investments in order to complete their projects and found eager LLCs (limited liability companies) who filled their coffers and allowed the plants to be built and operations to start.

These LLCs don't have to disclose who's behind the money. It has turned out across the country that these shadowy LLCs are owned by the same mega-grain giants that dominate agribusiness across the country, and across the world. These giants manipulate grain prices for their own profit and repress and crush the independent farmer with their power by keeping grain prices too low. Having a 60 percent stake in the local ethanol co-op allows them to control the prices paid for the crops of independent farmers who had hoped for and been promised better prices for their product.

So, my remaining question is: Who will ultimately own and control the county's future? Will the promise made to local farmers to have a legitimate, new market to sell their corn to, untainted by the tyranny of the mega-agribusiness giants who currently repress grain prices for their own profits, be upheld? Or will Logan County be held even tighter in the clutches of the "super-markup to the world?"

[Jim Youngquist]

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Life Sentence, No Parole

If we tried to invent the cruelest punishment for dogs, we probably couldn't come up with anything worse than "solitary confinement" on a chain or in a kennel.

Dogs are pack animals who crave the companionship of others.  Scratches behind the ears, games of fetch, or even just walks around the block mean the world to them.  Curling up at your feet while you watch TV is their idea of heaven.

Many dogs left to fend for themselves at the end of a chain fall prey to attacks by other animals or cruel people, and many others are injured or hanged or choke as a result of getting entangled or caught in their tether.

If you have a backyard dog, please, bring him or her inside.  They don't want much--just you.

A public service announcement from Lincoln Daily News and

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